Dungeons of Darkness #3

26. August 2015
‘A Long Way Home’ is one of my two absolute favourite dungeon synth albums I’ve heard this year, and it’s one of the most impressive I’ve seen in a long time. I considered the ‘Shrouded In Mystery’ demo by Forbidden Pathways (from 1998) to be quite impressive and most enjoyable even then, but after the long hiatus this musician has truly blossomed! The level of technical and compositional skill on this album is breathtaking – it is a feat reminiscent of the classical composers, and so rarely found in the dungeon synth community. This artist weaves together many different styles in a patchwork quilt which is spectacularly beautiful to behold.

As it says on the Bandcamp page : “‘A Long Way Home’ is the first full-length album of Forgotten Pathways…” – an awakening of the project after its long hiatus since releasing the well-respected ‘Shrouded In Mystery’ demo. The album itself is inspired heavily by fairy tales – particularly the Germanic kind such as those of the Brothers Grimm – and this is reflected both in the song titles and in the album art itself.
It is available for order on CD (complete with a booklet of artwork) or digital download from this link :
So, let’s explore this thrilling world of fantastical adventure!
01 – Intro
The intro to this album is not a piece of music, but an ambient track, with the sound of what appears to be a marching army near the sea. And at the end, one hears the creaking sound of a large door opening – an appropriate entrance to this mysterious album!
02 – Bury Me Under The Juniper Tree
Although most of this piece is based on a drone, one would be hard-pressed to pick it out : the instrumentation and melodies shift in marvellous ways throughout the song. The low-register double bass plays an Alberti bassline throughout most of the song, which provides a foundation upon which the rest of the song is constructed. It is usually accompanied by strings in a higher register, playing gentle melodies with little attack and great atmosphere.
At one point earlier in the song the strings and double bass are joined by a flute (which appears in other parts of the song also) playing a parallel melody one tritone above the main. This a brilliant device which manages to make a melody which was once secure and comforting sound threatening and evil, truly reflecting the transient nature of fairy tale narratives.
Halfway through the song a harp (as many other instruments do also) joins and plays a melody harmonizing with the main which soon becomes a force of its own. This, as with most melodies in the song, is subject to variation, and this change makes the whole song interesting to listen to. Moreover, the composer manages three-part harmonies (if not more complex ones) throughout the whole song and, as mentioned before with the triton, is able to use changing harmonies, instrumentation and melodies to convey complex moods and changes in mood to the listener. Within this single song the listener goes between excitement, fear, calm and much else – this is truly a feat of excellent songwriting and bodes well for the rest of the album!
03 – The Evil Queen
Keeping with the dramatic tone of the album art (and, elements of the preceding song), this piece starts out with a brass line in a low register quite reminiscent of classical music. The motif it is based upon is transient, and soon replaced not only by other melodies but by other instruments also. An appealingly childlike glockenspiel soon joins the mix and plays a varying melody along to the accompaniment of bells, strings and a rather atmospheric drum with a deep and ponderous sound. The glistening tone of the glockenspiel in particular, atop all the other instruments which usually manage to fade from the listener’s focus and feel like a fog in a dense forest, brings a sense of mystery and magic to this piece.
But the composer never lets us forget the title of this song – ‘The Evil Queen’ – and certainly the mood throughout the whole piece projects power, pomp and terror. Towards the end of the piece the tempo of the song seems to increase ever-so-slightly,
and the volume rises in a crescendo aided by the thickening texture of the piece, as brass, string and percussive instruments join together to deliver a pounding rhythm which certainly conjures to mind visions of a mighty ruler with a wicked heart. The composition throughout this whole piece remains stellar – the melodies change constantly (the piece indeed sounds through-composed) and none of them are boring, or structured poorly with the harmonic elements of the song. In addition, the various atmospheric elements added towards the end of the song – strange sounds that bear no resemblance to anything familiar or comforting – reinforce the sense of fantasy until the song ends dramatically with the shattering of glass.
04 – Dornröschen Sleep
From the beginning, the atmosphere of this piece is emphasized by the harsh sounds of rain and a howling wind in the distance. Then the music begins with a piano playing a repeating riff, later joined by a string pad which plays a more simplistic harmony. Soon, percussion instruments join also and accentuate the rhythm of the song.
As with other pieces on this album, the music itself is ever changing, and never boring. It alternates between being dominated by percussive instruments with great attack, or by softer instruments with less. Towards the end, a general theme can be seen – it becomes dramatic, more symphonic and bombastic. There is a piercingly sharp contrast between the extremely high-pitched piano parts and the deep booming brass parts, all to the violent rhythm of the drums. Despite this rather grandiose theme, the song actually fades out slowly.
05 – The Tomb Of A King
With the pounding of deep (and slightly electrified) drums, this piece sounds rather more like an industrial song than a dungeon synth one, although it is nonetheless quite atmospheric and soon leads into a mix of percussive string instruments playing a rather Oriental-sounding melody to the backdrop of strings. The instruments weave between each other in a very impressive manner, all keeping time to the beat of those same slow plodding drums.
Despite the still-impressive songwriting on this piece, I didn’t like it as much. I felt it didn’t really have as much atmosphere as the others, and the stringed instruments sounded almost as if they were repeating the same thing, and their parts weren’t particularly interesting to listen to. And, as the instruments fade away at the end of the piece, I almost felt relieved.
06 – To New Shores
This piece starts out with a rather ominous riff played by strings and brass, which is soon augmented by a harp playing a higher-pitched melody above it, all at a rather low volume. Before long, the drums join in, all the instruments increase in volume, and begin playing a variation on that initial melody. Foremost among all of these is a beautiful violin – the sound of which is captivating.
Here, as with other songs on the album, the music doesn’t rely on boring repetition and changes constantly, moulding into new and beautiful forms. All of the different parts are expertly harmonized also, and there is a great deal of counterpoint (ie, the lower harmonic accompaniments are actually melodies in their own right). At the end of the song that dulcim violin joined the mix again, playing an emotional harmony above the other instruments as they all gradually faded away – it was only at this moment that I felt the piece truly invoked the sensation of sailing to new shores.
07 – A Horses Head
For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, this song reminds me a lot of the old dungeon synth band Dolch. It is layered with many beautiful instruments in many different registers – flutes and strings and brass and percussion all mixed into one. The rhythm of the piece is, for the most part slow, but agreeable. And the polyphony and counterpoint is excellent here – throughout most of this song the composer uses independent melodies in contrary motion yet in complete harmony. The melody, of course, never gets stale, but changes in a lively fashion throughout the piece. By using changes of instrumentation the composer in this piece brings out ominous elements and adventurous ones alike.
Around midway through the song these ominous elements become more evident – the composer uses a great contrast between low and high pitched instruments in a growing crescendo with an uneasy musical motif. As if running in fear, the tempo of
the piece speeds up into an outright run, as the drums come in hard and everything speeds up, until a great crash. There are also a great many key changes in this section of the song – quite a rare gem of songwriting skill in dungeon synth! This loud-and-fast ominous section crashes (with a cymbal) into a quieter, slower, yet equally scary finale, which leads the listener on with brass and woodwind to a gentle fade, culminating in a defiant gasp of the brass which cuts the piece off.
08 – The Forbidden Door
‘The Forbidden Door’, in keeping with its name, is a very ominous piece. It starts out as such, with low register strings playing a haunting riff, which is soon developed not by the instruments themselves, but by changes in the texture – more instruments are added gradually, each playing their own harmony and variation upon the same central theme. This rises into a crescendo, aided greatly by the drumbeat which gradually fades in. Throughout the rest of the piece the same brilliant composition shines through, with different melodies being taken and played with all the way to the dramatic crescendo with a hugely thick texture upon which the piece ends. Upon reflection, ‘The Forbidden Door’ rather reminds me of the door to the other world in the novel and movie Coraline.
09 – Her Frozen Palace
Whereas all the other pieces on this album exhibit a very strong influence from classical music (which is greatly appreciated, at least by this writer!), this track is more obviously influenced by black metal music. One can see this not only in the composition (which, here, is more repetitive than most other tracks, as single themes are kept to and developed for longer, although this is definitely not a bad thing, as the change and contrast is a nice compliment to the rest of the album) but also in the inclusion of a highly distorted synth guitar, which plays simple power chord accompaniments for various sections in the song. Although I don’t personally love the guitar sound itself (because, to my ears it sounds very hissy and is too loud in comparison to the other instruments, unnecessarily so considering that it is one of the most static and boring instrumental lines in the sections where it plays), it definitely adds a great deal of atmosphere to this song. Even so, the composition on this song remains impressive also, and although there is a slight thematic change one can still see the composer’s wonderful skill come forth.
10 – Cohort Of The Lost
The finale of this piece seems to have a strong influence from the band Dark Ages – it features percussion and percussive instruments quite prominently, as well as rather high-pitched instruments drawing a sharp contrast with the lower-pitched strings which provide harmonies throughout most of the song. There are also many non-musical ambient sounds used to great effect in this piece – the hammer of an anvil, the crashing of metal, etc. This piece goes through different sections with a wide variety of instruments, from lutes to bagpipes to recorders, as if to remind the listener one last time of all this composer is capable of.
‘Cohort Of The Lost’ draws the album to a close with a deceptive gradual diminuendo which eventually rises again, with flutes, harps, strings (and loud percussion instruments) playing a new but unusually repetitive motif which fades out all other instruments slowly, so that by the end the harp is pre-eminent. Then, with an ominous crash of the cymbals, silence falls.
Final Thoughts : ‘A Long Way Home’ is one of my two absolute favourite dungeon synth albums I’ve heard this year, and it’s one of the most impressive I’ve seen in a long time. I considered the ‘Shrouded In Mystery’ demo by Forbidden Pathways (from 1998) to be quite impressive and most enjoyable even then, but after the long hiatus this musician has truly blossomed! The level of technical and compositional skill on this album is breathtaking – it is a feat reminiscent of the classical composers, and so rarely found in the dungeon synth community. This artist weaves together many different styles in a patchwork quilt which is spectacularly beautiful to behold. Another factor which I neglected to emphasize in the review is that the production on this album is superb! The instruments are almost always well mixed and mastered, changing tempos and keys are done well, without obtrusion. And, most of all, the digital instruments are of stellar quality. I don’t know what virtual instruments this composer was using, but I wish I could have them! I give this album five stars out of five, and I encourage everyone reading this to go buy ‘A Long Way Home’ from the Bandcamp link listed at the start of this review. You won’t be disappointed!
-Levi Talvi from the Dungeons of Darkness